Mix Interview: Producer/Engineer Joe Chiccarelli

Mar 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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photo of Joe Chiccarelli

Joe Chiccarelli in the legendary Sunset Sound.

There’s definitely a certain earnestness and sincerity he manages to pull off in a non-cloying way.
That’s right; that’s a good way to put it. It touches you, the lyrics are really heartfelt and there’s no denying them. They get under your skin. I said to Jason, “If you want to do something that is a bit more honest and classic and not so much of the moment—not the sort of obvious, processed radio pop songs that people are doing these days—then I’m in.” He sent me some more songs and they were even stronger, so then I was really excited about it.

So I decided to put a band around him of studio players I thought were really good at adapting to different styles. A lot of his stuff has a little reggae influence in it and we certainly wanted to tap into that almost Paul Simon-in-Muscle Shoals sort of vibe—that classic “Kodachrome”/There Goes Rhymin’ Simon feeling. So we had Matt Chamberlain on drums; he’s fantastic. Tim Pierce, who’s one of the best guitarists around—one day he’ll be doing Shinedown and the next day Madonna; he has such a musical vocabulary. I got Jeff Babko from Sheryl Crow’s band to play keys. Justin Meldal-Johnsen was the main bass player—he’s a longtime friend who played with Beck for years. I like him because he comes up with some really interesting stuff. Paul Bushnell, who’s a really great session bassist, also played on the record; he’s got a great sense of R&B grooves. And Zac Rae is the other keyboard player—he played with Alanis Morissette for a long time and with many other people. David Campbell did the string arrangements. We recorded the strings over at East-West.

photo of Sunset Sound

Mraz’s vocal booth at Sunset Sound.

We also used the horn section that plays on the road with Jason, the Grooveline Horns, out of Austin, Texas. They did all the horn arrangements and performances on the album, and they’re really great. I was a little nervous about it because the way they work is you send them the idea for the arrangement and then Carlos [Sosa, saxophonist] does it all on his own and then sends it back to you. I thought, “Mail-order horns?” [Laughs] But he was fantastic, and any time I didn’t like something he was able to tweak it.

Did Jason do elaborate demos?
He did some songwriting demos in England with Martin Terefe, who produced his last album [2008’s mega-successful We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things], and a couple of the songs that Martin co-wrote with him ended up on the album.

Jason seems to be a guy who knows what he wants and has opinions about the way things should go.
He’s definitely got a lot of ideas about things, but he really was great about giving me the space to try stuff. He’s not shy, and he’s extremely musical, so he would certainly speak up if he didn’t like something, or if he thought it was going the wrong direction. There were some things in the demo arrangements that he was really partial to and wanted to protect. But for the most part it was very collaborative between the band and myself and Jason. We didn’t do any preproduction as a group. The only preproduction was done between Jason and myself, talking over arrangements and direction. But those musicians are such experienced players that you can get in a room with them and say, “You know, I’m kind of feeling this like an old Philly soul track,” or “I hear a Motown kind of bass line”—all those kind of directions and ideas, and they instantly get it.

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